Fresh off a record-breaking $1.2 billion box office weekend, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, the filmmakers behind the Disney/Marvel epic Avengers: Endgame, made an appearance at the Milken Institute Global Conference. The pair discussed their journey through the Marvel Cinematic Universe that culminated with the appropriately titled Endgame, the movie’s global influence, and also weighed in on the streaming vs. theatrical debate.
Moderated by CNBC Senior Media and Entertainment Correspondent Julia Boorstin, the panel kicked off with with the brothers addressing the wild success of Endgame.
“We were def surprised,” said Anthony. “You could never predict something like this.”
“We saw numbers coming in Tuesday from the international market,” said Joe. “We had good momentum — it’s sort of shock and awe. It’s a testament to serialized storytelling and this movie is benefited from that.”
It’s no doubt that the MCU has a global reach — that’s evident in the various locations featured in films like Black Panther as well as the installments the Russo brothers directed: Captain America: Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War. The two recognize how the movies connect with audiences, and Joe touched on what people from different parts of the globe take away from the film.
“Not every market perceives it the same way,” said Joe. “It’s all motivated by thematics.” He says the main driving theme is destiny and the journey in fulfilling it. “Those thematics resonate no matter what part of the world you’re from.”
Anthony added that the brothers don’t design movies differently based on the location, but they orient their point of view with respect for the material, “We are very tuned in what we value,” he said. “We try to service our own instinct in where the story should go.” He points out that one idea may take more precedence in one country than another, but the themes still translate well across the board. “It’s a really an intense global phenomenon,” he said.
Both brothers are active on social media as it has become a necessary tool for studio movies and also a way to connect. Joe says they like being abstract when posting on social media (remember when they teased the title of Endgame and posted a mysterious photo when they wrapped?). “It’s part of generating conversation,” Joe said. “Serialized storytelling in the Marvel Universe is the key — we like to tease the fans and withhold info. They can expend energy to crack these posts and that creates engagement.”
Social media furthers the Russo’s global reach and Anthony points out that streaming is doing the same. As for the ongoing conversation about how streaming has changed the film landscape, they don’t see it as a “war” between streaming and theatrical. While they recognize it has changed viewing habits and how they make movies, ultimately it makes it possible to create dialogue on a global scale, something that is difficult to do.
Anthony said what is happening in the streaming world is exciting. “There is a focus on unifying a global audience like feature companies,” he adds.
“It’s become important to studios that people would be able to engage in conversation,” said Joe of the theatrical world. He says that there has been a drive for theatrical to become “eventized” — something that Marvel has done brilliantly. “They are a prime example of checking storytelling checkboxes to garner a level of fandom and box office.”
With streaming, Joe said, there isn’t necessarily a war but a “race for eyeballs.”
“I think there is room for lots of platforms,” he continues. “The biggest race to watch is Disney+ versus Netflix. Disney clearly has quality, but they need to get volume [on the level of Netflix]. It will be interesting to see who gets there first.”
He adds that theatrical and streaming are “supercharging each other in a way we couldn’t predict” as seen with Endgame. The race between the platforms influence each other with how they tell stories and how audiences consume content. “Theaters find a the highest success rate through eventized and serialized storytelling,” he said. “The advent of streaming and MCU shows that this generation is craving a different kind of storytelling.”
The duo certainly have their foot in both camps. They will continue working on feature projects via their production company AGBO and the forthcoming film Cherry starring Spider-Man himself Tom Holland. They are also working on a yet-to-be-titled Amazon spy series with Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg of Midnight Radio that will be a global event multi-series — which goes in line with their worldy perspective of storytelling.
Considering many of the characters from the Avengers will have their own series on the Disney+ streaming platform, the Russos also haven’t ruled out continuing to play in the MCU sandbox.
“Anywhere we can tell a story — we aren’t prejudiced against any medium,” said Joe. “They each have their own strength.”